01/27/2010, 00.00

Guizhou: government steals the land; residents take to the street, clash with police

More than 700 riot police charge the crowd of mostly elderly people and children in a case due to the seizure of 67 hectares of land that the Party does not want to pay for.
Guilin (AsiaNews) – Authorities in the south-western Chinese region of Guizhou have sealed off Tongle village following violent clashes between local residents and police in a dispute over seized land. Once again, social instability is one of the most dangerous threats to the power of the Chinese Communist Party.

"The villagers put up some reports about what happened on the internet, but they were taken down by the authorities very quickly," said a resident of Tongle Township, which is located near the tourist city of Guilin.

"Right now the authorities have totally sealed off the area. The villagers are using text messaging to exchange news," said Zhang, who was warned by other villagers that police were still detaining people.

Photos about the clashes were posted online and show people, including the elderly, with injuries to their arms and legs. Some showed people bandaged, and still bleeding from head injuries. "Things got very serious at the scene," Zhang said.

Riot police fired tear gas and used electric shock batons on elderly protesters trying to prevent the takeover of their farmland for development. People "were attacked by the riot police first, and a lot of those injured were then taken away by police."

The dispute flared up because of the forced seizure of land, requisitioned by the Pingle County government for redevelopment.

Although Chinese requires compensation for those who have their land expropriated, the amount is often below the actual value of the property.

An official who answered the phone at the Guilin municipal politics and law committee confirmed the clashes had taken place as part of a land dispute.

An employee who answered the phone at the Pingle County government, which oversees Tongle village, said the authorities had already issued the legally required amount of compensation to the villagers.

"Our leaders here have already dealt with this situation," the employee said. "Everything we did went through the municipal level authorities for approval, and the entire affair was handled according to law."

The dispute involves a plot of around 1,000 mu (67 hectares) of land in the village. Local residents were angry because the authorities had sold the land for 10 times the amount of the compensation promised and had not yet paid anything to the villagers.

Around 700 riot police were dispatched to the village, which is still cut off from the outside world.

The area where Tongle village is located is sadly known for its abuse-prone authorities. The worst incident so far occurred in July 2008 when a 15-year-old girl was raped and killed by a group of youth, all sons of influential local politicians, who said she committed suicide

Angered by the lie, local residents launched one of the largest protest movements in recent history, forcing the central government in Beijing to remove local top party officials (see “Police arrest 200 protesters in Guizhou revolt,” in AsiaNews, 30 June 2008).

Despite proclamations by President Hu Jintao, bad governance continues across China, especially in rural areas. Corruption cases are multiplying and violence against local communities is increasing, as the central government appears incapable of reigning in local potentates, which in turn is undermining its own authority.

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